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  • Writer's pictureFord Carter

Why Vilnius and Sofia are so important to this year's Eurovision Song Contest

Capital of Lithuania, Vilnius (shown on left) Capital of Bulgaria, Sofia (shown on right)

In order to prevent the cancellation of the Eurovision Song Contest for the second year in a row due to the ongoing spread of coronavirus, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) announced that broadcasters would be required to create a "live-on-tape" backup recording of the performance they would be sending to the Eurovision team so that it could be used in the event artists would not be able to attend the Rotterdam Ahoy in person.

The recorded performances would bring along with them some new rules specific to the situation. The artists would be allowed to rehearse for as long as they wished, however, only three attempts over the course of one hour are given for the filming of the performance, which is to be monitored by a representative from the EBU.

Each act is also filmed in real time, as though it were a live show, with no ability to make edits from different takes into the performance sent to the EBU. The video recordings also could not contain any augmented or virtual reality, overlays, confetti, drone shots, water, colour use, or green screen, and the final chosen performance would be sent directly to the EBU to avoid any claims of bias. The EBU also explained that the backup performances did not need to resemble the live performance in May.

Avia Solutions Group Arena, Vilnius, Lithuania

Some broadcasters decided to film their backup performances on the same stages as their national finals were held:

  • Denmark filmed at DR Studio 5 in Copenhagen

  • Estonia filmed at Saku Suurhall in Tallinn

  • Finland filmed at Mediapolis in Tampere

  • France filmed at France Télévisions Studios in Paris

  • Norway filmed at H3 Arena in Fornebu

  • Portugal filmed at RTP Studio 1 in Lisbon

  • Spain filmed at Prado del Rey Studio 5 in Madrid

  • Sweden filmed at Annexet in Stockholm

Other countries, such as Austria, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, and Switzerland, filmed in their own television broadcast studios.

And this is where the cities of Vilnius in Lithuania and Sofia in Bulgaria become so important to the backup performance production process and this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

In Vilnius, a stage of a similar size and scale to the one to be used in Rotterdam has been set up at the Avia Solutions Group Arena, an ice hockey venue currently not being used due to the coronavirus pandemic, by Lithuanian company Creative Industries. The idea behind setting up the arena and the stage was that it would significantly reduce the cost on broadcasters from creating the same setups in their own countries.

To date, this stage has been used to film backup performances by Lithuanian broadcaster LRT and German broadcaster NDR. And a description of the filming of the backup performance by German head of delegation Alexandra Wolfslast also gives us a small description of what the stage looks like.

“I’m relatively sure that we have one of the best back-up videos because we were able to produce it in an environment with a stage, with an LED screen, with an LED floor.”

Sofia, Bulgaria

Last weekend in Sofia, a massive weekend was held where delegations from Croatian broadcaster HRT, Cypriot broadcaster CyBC, Greek broadcaster ERT, Maltese broadcaster PBS, and Moldovan broadcaster TRM went to Bulgaria to film their backup performances at Ten Dots Virtual Production Studio. These performances were produced by the same company that worked with broadcaster BNT to produce the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2015 in Bulgaria.

With cities such as Vilnius and Sofia opening their doors to international delegations, the potential costs and strains on smaller broadcasters with limited budgets and potentially inadequate studio logistics can be drastically reduced, allowing them to provide the EBU with a top quality backup performance no matter their restraints.

It was clear that the backup performances, and the rules surrounding them, were created to enforce equality amongst the participating countries and ensure that broadcasters who would be unable to attend the Eurovision Song Contest due to coronavirus restrictions would still be able to compete. However, it also seems as though it creates a level of wealth inequality amongst the competing broadcasters, as lesser-funded and smaller broadcasters such as SMRTV in San Marino, TRM in Moldova, or MRKTV in North Macedonia cannot be expected to match the studio space and funding of larger broadcasters such as BBC in the United Kingdom, SVT in Sweden, or RAI in Italy.

More fortunate broadcasters sharing their available resources to ensure an equal and level playing field for all of this year’s Eurovision broadcasters and artists are important to the integrity of the contest should the backup performances be required, and show that, despite everything we have endured during 2020, we can all still help each other out.

And while Vilnius and Sofia are by no means the only cities sharing stages with their competitors (the North Macedonian delegation filmed at RTS Studios Košutnjak in Belgrade alongside Serbian entry Hurricane, and the Sammarinese delegation filmed at Voxon Studios in Italy), they do show us the importance and concept of the beginning of the Eurovision Song Contest – to bring nations together who have been divided, this time not by World War II, but by the coronavirus pandemic.

The following countries have confirmed the filming of their backup performances in the following locations:

  • Austria – ORF Studios, Vienna

  • Belgium – Palais du Centenaire, Brussels

  • Bulgaria – Ten Dots Virtual Production Studio, Sofia

  • Croatia – Ten Dots Virtual Production Studio, Sofia, Bulgaria

  • Cyprus – Ten Dots Virtual Production Studio, Sofia, Bulgaria

  • Czech Republic – ČT Studios, Prague

  • Denmark – DR Studio 5, Copenhagen

  • Estonia – Saku Suurhall, Tallinn

  • Finland – Mediapolis, Tampere

  • France – France TV Studios, Paris

  • Germany – Avia Solutions Group Arena, Vilnius, Lithuania

  • Greece – Ten Dots Virtual Production Studio, Sofia, Bulgaria

  • Ireland – Dublin

  • Lithuania – Avia Solutions Group Arena, Vilnius

  • Malta – Ten Dots Virtual Production Studio, Sofia, Bulgaria

  • Moldova – Ten Dots Virtual Production Studio, Sofia, Bulgaria

  • North Macedonia – RTS Studios Košutnjak, Belgrade, Serbia

  • Norway – H3 Arena, Fornebu

  • Poland – Transcolor Studio, Warsaw

  • Portugal – RTP Studio 1, Lisbon

  • San Marino – Voxon Studios, Rome, Italy

  • Serbia – RTS Studios Košutnjak, Belgrade

  • Slovenia – RTV Slovenija Studio 1, Ljubljana

  • Spain – Prado del Rey Studio 5, Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid

  • Sweden – Annexet, Stockholm

  • Switzerland – SRF Studios, Zürich

The Australian broadcaster, SBS, has yet to reveal the studio location of Montaigne's "live-on-tape" performance, though in Montaigne's latest vlog she did share that she will be doing her recording next week, and talks about her performance, you can check it out here.


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